Politics & Government

This SC city is now the center of a public campaign against an abortion bill

The debate about abortion is spilling from the State House into the streets of the capital city. Specifically, its billboards.

The Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network launched a campaign this week aimed at building pressure on lawmakers as the legislative session comes to an end.

Billboards posted in four locations around Columbia say “Our state lawmakers just tried to ban abortion, jailing women and doctors. We deserve better.”

The billboards direct people to a website that calls the six-week abortion ban that passed the S.C. House last month — and a separate “personhood” bill that would outlaw abortions completely — “attacks on women’s health.”

The billboards went up Monday on South Assembly Street near Capital City Stadium; Blossom Street near Huger Street; at Gervais and Harden streets, and on Taylor Street near Harden Street.

Locations of billboards put up by the Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network opposing efforts by the S.C. Legislature to limit access to abortion. Provided

The five-figure ad campaign targets a bill approved by the House that will ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, about six weeks after conception. Opponents say that would be sooner than most women even know they are pregnant.

“We’re going to use multiple vehicles to make sure people are paying attention,” said Ann Warner, the CEO of WREN.

If the bill becomes law, any doctor who performs an abortion on a fetus with a heartbeat would be charged with a felony, punishable by a $10,000 fine or up to two years in prison, or both.

The bill has attracted the attention of pro-life activists at well, who have warned senators could be targeted for re-election if the bill doesn’t become law.

That bill doesn’t include penalties for women who seek abortions, but Warner said the campaign also seeks to draw attention to a “personhood” bill that would grant full legal protection to a fetus from the moment of conception, under which a woman could be charged with murder for seeking an abortion. That bill has not advanced in the Legislature.

Senators are unlikely to take up the abortion bill before the Legislature adjourns for the year on Thursday, but the bill will be waiting on the Senate calendar next year. Warner said her group will keep up the pressure.

In addition to the billboards, the campaign will include a digital ad push on social media as well as on the sites of The State and the Charleston Post and Courier, Warner said. The campaign will last about a month.

Bristow Marchant is currently split between covering Richland County and the 2020 presidential race. He has more than 10 years’ experience covering South Carolina. He won the S.C. Press Association’s 2015 award for Best Series on a toxic Chester County landfill fire, and was part of The State’s award-winning 2016 election coverage.